There are four books at arm’s length in my office:
Precision and clarity
My Ph.D. advisor, Olin Shivers, taught me that technical writing is a balancing
act between precision, clarity and marketing.
After a recent round of paper submissions with my own
Ph.D. students, I’ve identified mechanically recognizable ways that
precision and clarity leak out of a paper: weasel words and abuse of
the passive voice.
So, I’ve written shell scripts to detect these leaks.
(I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write a shell script that
detects bad marketing for a scientific idea.)
Weasel words–phrases or words that sound good without conveying
I notice three kinds of weasel words in my students’ writing: (1)
salt and pepper words, (2) beholder words and (3) lazy words.
Salt and pepper words
New grad students sprinkle in salt and pepper words for seasoning.
These words look and feel like technical words, but convey